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The Ulster Tenant Right

JOhn Sadleir Picture

Above : Photo Of John Sadleir

As the new league therefore, scarcely at all diminished the grievances under w h the people suffered, the discontent continued to grow, and soon an outcry arose all over the country against the injustice of the Land over was accompanied by an insistent demand for their alteration. In the Northern Province a custom prevailed by which a tenant acquired what was called an ” interest ” in the land which he cultivated, and could dispose of this when he vacated the farm. The value of this ” Interest ” varied largely, according chiefly to the amount of ” unexhausted improvements ” made by the seller, but even when no improvements had been made, something was paid.

The land was disposed of often without consulting the landlord, whose only concern was considered to be that he should receive his rent as originally fixed. As long as a tenant paid this rent he had practical fixity of tenure. This was, in truth, a survival of the old Irish system of land tenure ; but, as it had remained only in Ulster, it came to be known as ” Ulster Tenant Right.” At the period of which we are speaking, it was a custom only, unrecognised by law, and enforced merely by public opinion and the inconvenience, or even peril, which might result to any person violating it.

It is not to be supposed that, even in Ulster, many grievances did not exist in connection with land tenure, and we find northerns now joining with the more oppressed tenants of the south in a general demand for redress. At a Conference held in Dublin in 1850, Catholic priests and Presbyterian clergymen, landlords and tenants met. Resolutions were drawn up and agreed to, demanding such alterations in the Land Laws as would establish a fair rent for agricultural holdings ; protect the tenant from eviction as long as he paid this rent, and enable him to sell his ” interest” at its full value when giving up the land. In °r er to carry out this programme by the exercise of pressure on the society to be called the “Irish Tenant League” was spread rapidy and grew in strength month by month.

Below : John Russel, Prime Minister At The Time

John Russell

The plan which were t0 destroy its power were already performed all the functions appertaining to their office, each i diocese assigned to him. Nevertheless the order received from R0In produced a regular burst of anti-Popery fury in England, to which Lo A John Russell, the Premier, pandered by the introduction of h-” Ecclesiastical Titles’ Bill ” (February, 1851), by which any ecclesiastic of the Catholic Church was forbidden to assume a title from any piace in the United Kingdom. The Bill passed, but was, from the beginning a dead letter. No one took any notice of its provisions ; no one was punished for disobedience to them. In Ireland, however, the effects ef the measure were important and disastrous.

The comments of the English Press on the Papal Bulls, which were echoed by the Orange journals, still more than the action of the
Parliament had excited great indignation amongst the Irish Catholics. Seme were really fearful of possible injury to the interests of the Church. Others merely desired to make capital for themselves out of the situation, and acquire a cheap popularity. Of these latter, two, William Keogh, a barrister by profession, and John Sadleir, a Tipperary banker, were the chief.Both were men of undoubted ability, and Sadleir was supposed to possess great wealth. As a result chiefly of their efforts, a Catholic Defence Association was formed.

In vain such men as Gavan Duffy pointed out that this movement would endanger the work of the Tenant League; that a renewal of sectarian animosities would dissolve that union in it of men of different creeds which alone made it formidable, and gave it hopes of success. ” The Pope’s Brass Band,” as the Sadleir party was nicknamed by its opponents, succeeded in a great measure in turning the people’s attention aside from the real and formidable foe of landlordism, and inducing them to expend their energies in attacks on a mere phantom.
In spite of the division in its ranks, the League was still strong. At the General Election of 1852, almost half ef the members returned for Irish constituencies were pledged to support the resolutions of the Dublin Conference.

It appeared as if nothing further was needed to insure success than an independent policy in Parliament. Scarcely any Government weule1 be strong enough te resist the force of a solid band of fifty who steadily opposed it;scarcely any would deem its support too dearly bought at the price of agrarian reform. But defeat csme when triumph seemed at hand. When the list of appointments made by Lord Aberdeen, the new Premier, appeared (January, 1853), it was read in Ireland with rage and horror. The ” Brass Band ” had sold itself to the Government—Keogh was Solicitor-General for Ireland ; Sadleir was a Lord of the Treasury; some of their followers received minor appointments.

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